Free Speech Protections Extend to Private Boycotts

The Los Angeles Times editorial board writes about the increasing presence of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement in the United States,  a controversial effort to boycott the nation of Israel until it ends its involvement in Palestine. Some BDS supporters accept the possibility of a “two-state solution,” but others do not.

In response to the BDS movement, which is increasingly criticized as a platform for anti-Semitism, some state governments are passing laws refusing to make contracts with any business engaged in a boycott of Israel.

The LA Times argues that such laws are both unnecessary and troubling attempts to stifle political speech. Moreover, it is not government’s role of to censure a person or a company, or to deny them access to a benefit or contract for which they otherwise would be eligible, simply because that person or company holds the “wrong” opinion on an issue.

When government uses the force of law to denote which side of a heated debate is the “correct” one, it ends the public discourse on that issue and stifles the speech of those who hold the “wrong” ideas. This further entrenches the “wrong” ideas in the minds of those who hold them and suppresses the important public dialogue that might eventually change people’s current views.

Conversely, those who would engage in a boycott should also consider how that decision comports with the purpose of their organizations. If, as in the case of universities, one of their organization’s goals is an open exchange of ideas, endorsing particular sides in a dispute can hamper a vibrant discussion on campus.

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